Tough as teak ten-year-old Gagarin proved the best stayer when he came from last in the early running to win the Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) at Trentham.
The Kevin Myers-trained Pentire gelding wasn’t at his fluent best when jumping the first few fences in the 5500m contest but slowly warmed to his task as the field completed the first of three laps of the unique figure eight Trentham steeplechase course.
Rider Mathew Gillies allowed his charge to bowl along behind his nine rivals before slowly working his way into contention with just over 1600m to run. Gagarin quickly went from last to first as he put the pressure on with two fences to jump.
With Kipkeino closing quickly at the last fence it looked like Gagarin was in serious trouble however he found plenty in the last 200m to hold out Kipkeino’s brave challenge with last month’s Hawkes Bay Steeplechase winner, Perry Mason gripping on well for third.
“He’s been working pretty well at home during this campaign,” said stable representative Luke Myers.
“Matt rode him beautifully, sat back quiet then set him alight.
“He’s (Gagarin) come back fresh and ready to go this season and has been performing on the track which is good to see.”
Gillies had a beaming smile as he explained how his instructions were to settle off the pace in the early stages.
“That was the plan that Kevin set, as when he is amongst the field, he pulls a bit,” he said.
“It’s such a long way and he’s that good a jumper he can make his way up. He saved a lot of ground in that final bit so it was a credit to Kevin, who I have to thank for putting me on.
“He used to love that kind of heavy (track) but now it’s a test for him. It just about found him out but he had the guts to carry on.”
Successful in the Manawatu Steeplechase (4200m) last month, Gagarin has now won three times over the bigger fences to go with his three wins on the flat and 4 wins over hurdles that include a victory in the 2015 Great Northern Hurdle (4190m).
Race favourite Chocolate Fish failed to finish after being pulled up with 1200m to run following some indifferent jumping in the middle stages of the event. – NZ Racing Desk